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Community forums on superintendent search set for Thursday

Cascade Consulting, the group the School Board hired to find the next superintendent, has scheduled two forums to gather community input.

Both forums will be at 6 p.m. Thursday (March 1).

One is at Waterfront Elementary, 95 Fourth St. The other is at Hamlin Park School 74, 126 Donaldson Road.

Cascade and its partner in the search, Say Yes to Education, have emphasized to the board the importance of gathering community input in the process. They have planned a series of focus groups with various constituencies -- identified by the board -- in addition to the two general community forums.

Those who remember the last search, which resulted in James Williams' appointment, note that any attempts to gather community input will exceed any such efforts (basically, none) along that line during that search.

However, the particulars of the two community forums are also drawing criticism.

For one thing, some people I've heard from say that two forums are hardly enough, given the size of the city.

Beyond that, one of the locations -- Waterfront -- is one of the district's favorite sites for community meetings. It's also one of the most inaccessible via public transportation, which is what many Buffalo families rely on.

Both forums are scheduled for the same time on the same day -- meaning that anyone who might want to attend, but works an evening shift or is busy with their children in the evenings, would not be able to.

And finally, some people point out, the forums were announced just two days before they were scheduled to be held.

"So much for community input," one community activist wryly said to me.

- Mary Pasciak

Five districts get funds restored -- but not Buffalo

State Education Commissioner John King announced today that he has reinstated school improvement grant funding to five districts -- Albany, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Schenectady and Syracuse.

Buffalo was conspicuously absent from the list.

Asked about the district's status, an SED spokesman pointed to a statement from King indicating that "the five districts whose SIG funding is still suspended [including Buffalo] have requested hearings to challenge his ruling."

Buffalo's $9.3 million in SIG funds for six low-performing schools was suspended after the district failed to submit principal and teacher evaluation plans for those schools, for 2011-12, that the state deemed acceptable. Nine other districts also saw their SIG funding suspended.

Buffalo has since submitted at least three revised plans, according to teachers union president Phil Rumore.

Today's press release from the state Education Department read, in part:

"Teacher and principal evaluations are a major ingredient of the Regents reform agenda," Commissioner King said.  "The evaluation agreements submitted by these five districts are clear evidence that school districts and local unions can come together to craft a meaningful evaluation system.  The end result is better teaching and improved learning, both of which translate into better opportunities for the students in SIG schools.

"This proves that districts and teachers can get it done.  After SIG funding was suspended in January, these five districts went back to the drawing board and worked out agreements that meet the state and federal requirements.  All five districts can now receive their 2011-12 SIG funding.  Students at these schools have been denied a good education for far too long.  Meaningful teacher evaluations and the improvements funded with SIG money should help start to turn that around."

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

Join me this evening for a live blog of the School Board meeting.

Here's the packet for tonight's meeting.

- Mary Pasciak

CNN features Buffalo teachers' cosmetic surgery rider

Not long ago, the Atlantic did a story on the cosmetic surgery rider that Buffalo teachers have.

On Monday, CNN continued to shine the national spotlight on a story that we reported extensively a year and a half ago ("Cosmetic surgery dearly costs city schools," "Saving face(s): Cosmetic surgery costs for school employees skyrocket," "Cosmetic surgery rider was saved once," and more.)

CNN's Gary Tuchman talks to plastic surgeon Kulwant Bhangoo, who gets the lion's share of business from Buffalo teachers; School Board President Lou Petrucci; Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore; teacher Valerie Akauola, who had surgery after losing 150 pounds; and second-grade teacher Linda Tokarz, who says she gets regular treatments of some sort.

The piece on Anderson Cooper's show, "Teachers nip, tuck for free," recaps what we already know: Buffalo teachers have the cosmetic surgery rider; teachers pay nothing for procedures; taxpayers pick up the full tab; last year, it cost about $5.9 million; the district wants the union to waive the benefit as a gesture of goodwill; the union is willing to get rid of the rider, but only through contract negotiations; the contract expired nearly eight years ago.

While this is news to national viewers, it's rather familiar to those of us in Buffalo.

But what might be most noteworthy to us locally is the fact that, after significant local media attention on this issue a year and a half ago, pretty much nothing has changed.

Teachers still have the benefit. The union is still willing to get rid of it, in negotiations. And the union and the district still seem nowhere close to hammering out a new contract.

Here's the clip from CNN:

- Mary Pasciak

How will principals be evaluated?

In the midst of all the attention being paid to the new state agreement on teacher evaluations, something else is getting entirely overshadowed: principal evaluations.

Just as Race to the Top requires schools to tie teacher evaluations to student performance, it also requires schools to tie principal evaluations to student performance.

(Here's a link to the full text of the bill, which covers both teacher evaluations and principal evaluations:

In Buffalo, at least, the changes to principal evaluations are probably more drastic than the changes to teacher evaluations.

The city's existing teacher evaluations, which are based entirely on classroom observations, result in an overall finding that the teacher is either "adequate" or "inadequate" for the position.

Principals are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 on more than 20 items in three categories: leadership, management, and school/community/business relations. But the principal evaluations result in no overall finding at all -- something that chief academic officer Fran Wilson concedes renders them of limited use.

At any rate, principal evaluations will be getting overhauled in schools across the state.

In today's paper, we offer an overview Q&A on the teacher evaluations. Here is an overview of the principal evaluations, to accompany that.

Will principals be evaluated on a 100-point system, too?

Yes. The principal evaluation system parallels the teacher evaluation system in that 60 of the 100 points are based on site visits, and the other 40 points are tied to measurable student outcomes.

What are the overall ratings for principals?

They are the same as the ratings for teachers. Each principal will receive a numeric score on a 100-point scale, along with a corresponding categorical rating: highly effective, for scores of 91 to 100; effective, 75 to 90; developing, 65 to 74; and ineffective, below 65.

What is the breakdown of the 100 points?

Similar to the teacher evaluations, 60 points will be based on site visits.

The other 40 points will be dependent upon student performance. For principals in schools where there is no state-approved principal value-added model, 20 points would be based on state measures, and 20 points would be based on local measures. (This would apply to schools serving students in primary grades -- students in third grade or younger -- for example.) 

For principals in most schools, 25 points will be based on state-determined measures, and 15 points on locally determined measures.

How will those 60 points be determined for each principal?

The majority of those 60 points "shall be based on a broad assessment of the principal's leadership and management actions." That will be based on a rubric by the principal's supervisor, a trained administrator or an independent evaluator.

This must include more than one site visit, including at least one that is unannounced.

The remainder of the 60 points is to be based on at least two of the following: "feedback from teachers, students, and/or families using state-approved instruments; school visits by other trained evaluators; and/or review of school documents, records, and/or state accountability processes."

What are the options for the locally-determined measure of student achievement or growth?

Districts may choose from several options, including: student achievement on fourth- to eighth-grade ELA and math, such as the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency; student growth or achievement on those state tests for students with disabilities or English language learners; student performance on locally selected measures approved for use in teacher evaluations.

Also, for principals in high schools: four-, five- and/or six-year graduation rates; percentage of students getting a Regents diploma with advanced designation and/or honors; percentage of a cohort of a students getting a specified scored on approved alternative exams, such as AP, IB or SAT II; and student progress toward graduation using "strong predictive indicators" such as credits accumulated by students in ninth or tenth grade.

What about the state measures of student growth?

The state has not yet released the means by which it will measure student growth for principals.

When must principals be provided with the results of their evalutions?

Principals must be given the results of their evaluation no later than Sept. 1 of the next school year. Teachers must also receive their evaluation results by that date.

When must schools have the new principal evaluations in place?

The state agreement calls for schools to have principal evaluations in place in 2012-13, the same as the teacher evaluations.

What are the consequences for schools that do not comply?

Districts that do not have principal and teacher evaluations -- that comply with the state agreement -- in place by mid-January 2013 risk losing their 2012-13 increase in state aid.

- Mary Pasciak

What will the next round of school turnarounds look like in Buffalo?

District officials are still waiting to hear back from State Ed on the improvement plans submitted at the end of December for seven low-performing schools.

Associate Superintendent Debra Sykes says she expects a decision sometime in early or mid-March on the plans for Futures Academy, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Waterfront Elementary, Bilingual Center School 33, Drew Science Magnet, East High School, Lafayette High School.

These are the plans, remember, that involve hiring outside groups for four of the schools and replacing half the staff and implementing other changes at three.

Lovejoy DiscoveryAnd the district is waiting to hear how many of the four possible new PLA schools do end up getting that designation: Pantoja, Lovejoy Discovery School 43, Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy and Grabiarz.

Sykes says she has started meeting with parents and staff at each of those schools to find out which of the four federal improvement models they want to implement.

She seems to be anticipating less drama over the decisions this year. Why? Because the way the federal government's rules work, if all four of those schools do get designated as persistently lowest achieving, then two of them could use the transformation model. That's generally considered the model that requires the least amount of change -- the staff stays in place, and if the principal has only been there a year or two, the principal can stay in place, too.

Grabiarz, Sykes said, might already meet the requirements for a turnaround model -- replacing half the staff -- because that school merged students and staff from Grabiarz and from Campus West, which closed in June 2011.

So if two of the four schools use the transformation model, and Grabiarz uses turnaround, then only one other school would have to use either turnaround or hire an outside group to run it, Sykes told the District Parent Coordinating Council this week.

All of Buffalo's first six PLA schools are already using the transformation model: MLK, International School 45, and South Park, Bennett, Riverside and Burgard high schools.

Sykes says it's too soon to see any results in terms of improved test scores from the transformation efforts in those schools.

"Last year, the [school improvement grant] monies didn't come until November, then we didn't get the people in place until December or January, and then the tests were in May," she said.

Which prompted Sam Radford to ask: "So we won't know whether the transformation model works until after we have to make another decision on whether to use transformation again?"

"Right," Sykes said.

- Mary Pasciak

Radford elected president of parent group

Last night, the District Parent Coordinating Council elected Sam Radford as its president.

RadfordFor the past two years, Radford has pretty much been the public face of the DPCC, but technically, he was the vice president.

Until last night, Co-Leen Webb had been president -- although one who rarely spoke much at public events. I've been at more than one School Board meeting, in fact, where Radford spoke as the DPCC rep and a board member or two actually asked where the president was and why she wasn't addressing the board instead.

Webb apparently is attending college now and doesn't have the time to serve as president. Radford ran unopposed for the top job. (I'm frequently asked how much he gets paid by the DPCC. He, along with all the other members and officers of the group, are volunteers.)

His term will be for two years, as are all the officers' terms.

I'm also asked fairly often exactly who the DPCC is, or who it is that Radford represents. Each school has a representative on the DPCC, which is basically the parent group that's officially recognized by the district. To elect officers, each school gets one vote. Forty of Buffalo's 59 schools were represented at the DPCC meeting on Tuesday. Thirty-two of them were eligible voters (meaning they were the official DPCC rep for their school).

The only contested position was that of vice president. Jessica Bauer Walker and Bryon McIntyre both wanted that seat.

In his remarks to the DPCC prior to the voting, McIntyre cited his years of advocacy work for children. He also said he didn't realize Walker was running for v.p. when he decided to run, and assured parents they couldn't go wrong with either choice.

"Jessica is a brilliant mind. No matter how it goes down today, the DPCC is going to grow," he said.

Walker, who is relatively new on the education scene in Buffalo, has been making her mark by pushing for asset mapping, a way of tapping into skills and strengths of parents in every classroom.

In the end, they both won.

Radford asked the DPCC to add a second vice president's seat for Walker, which the group agreed to do.

Other uncontested races included incumbents: Patricia Elliott for treasurer; Kim Walek for corresponding secretary; and Sabirah Muhammed for recording secretary.

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of School Board meeting at 5:30 p.m.: student rep, Say Yes and more

Please join me at 5:30 p.m. today for a live blog of today's School Board meeting.

Items on the agenda include a resolution from board President Lou Petrucci to add a nonvoting student representative to the School Board immediately and another to enter into a relationship with Say Yes to Education -- based on terms that have not yet been finalized.

Here is the packet for tonight's meeting, with personnel changes, contracts up for approval, and more.

- Mary Pasciak

Live blog of parent meeting at 6 p.m.: elections, suspensions, teacher evals

Join me at 6 p.m. today for a live blog of the District Parent Coordinating Council meeting.

There's quite a bit on the agenda tonight.

For one thing, the group is holding its elections. Nominations can be taken from the floor, but at this point, Sam Radford is running for president uncontested. The only contested race, in fact, is for vice president: Jessica Bauer Walker and Bryon McIntyre are vying for the position. Only those parent reps in attendance at tonight's meeting can vote on the officers, I'm told.

Also, a representative from the governor's office will present an overview of the governor's education reform agenda -- a key piece of which links school aid increases in 2012-13 to implementation of the new teacher evaluation system in every district.

And parents will discuss the proposed changes to the suspension policy in Buffalo. (Here's today's story on teacher reactions to those changes.)

- Mary Pasciak

Check out the teacher ratings for your school

The state education commissioner and the governor have both put teacher evaluations front and center in their plans for reforming education in New York. Many millions of dollars for the Buffalo Public Schools ride on the district's ability to put together an evaluation system the state will approve.

There are plenty of important elements on both sides of the debate on teacher evaluations, and I hope to be able to touch on as many of them as possible in the coming days.

Today, I want to start off by addressing some of the anger that some teachers have expressed regarding the Buffalo News requesting public information about teacher evaluations.

What prompted the News to request the information?

Well, a few months ago, a teacher at one of the low-performing high schools contacted me with some concerns about the teacher evaluations in 2010-11. The teachers at the PLA schools, he had heard, were getting shafted on their evaluations. He wanted to know: was that true?

I had no idea.

But it seemed like a fair question to investigate.

So I did what seemed to make sense and asked the district for copies of all the teacher evaluations. If there were some inequity in how teachers were getting evaluated, that would be the way to prove or disprove it.

(I checked with Bob Freeman over at the state's Committee on Open Government, and he said there's no doubt that a teacher's overall rating is a matter of public record. But more on that another day.)

What did I find out from the district?

In most schools, all teachers were deemed "adequate." (On the existing evaluations, there are only two final determinations: "adequate" or "not adequate.") It's the principals, remember, who are doing the evaluations, which, in 2010-11, were based solely on classroom observations.

The school with the highest percentage of teachers rated inadequate was Hamlin Park, where one out of 10 teachers were rated inadequate. At Drew Science Magnet, 8 percent of teachers were rated inadequate. Early Childhood Center 17 and MLK each had 7 percent of teachers rated inadequate.

Most of the PLA (persistently lowest achieving) schools had a rather low percentage of teachers rated inadequate -- if any teachers at all were.

At the PLA high schools, for instance: Bennett and Burgard had 3 percent rated inadequate; Lafayette, East and South Park had none.

I'll be delving into this issue more in the coming days.

In the meantime, here's the raw info for you to digest a bit (ratings are from 2010-11):

School School name "Adequate" teachers "Not adequate" teachers Pct inadequate
3 D'Youville Porter 55
6 BEST 66
17 Early Childhd Ctr 17 41 3 7%
18 Pantoja 55 1 2%
19 Native Am Magnet 52
27 Hillery Park 54
30 Frank Sedita 74
31 Harriett Ross Tubman 49
32 Bennett Park 72
33 Bilingual Center 33 56
37 Futures Academy 65
39 MLK 71 5 7%
42 Occupational Trng Ctr 26
43 Lovejoy Discovery 52 1 2%
45 Intl School 45 106 1 1%
53 Community Sch 53 52
54 Blackman 37
59 Drew Science Magnet 36 3 8%
61 Early Childhd Ctr 61 35 1 3%
64 Olmsted 64 9
65 Roosevelt 32
66 North Park Middle 38 1 3%
67 Discovery 20
69 Houghton 54 1 2%
72 Lorraine 52
74 Hamlin Park 55 6 10%
76 Badillo 65
79 Grabiarz 49 2 4%
80 Highgate Heights 43 0 0%
81 School 81 57 1 2%
82 Early Childhd Ctr 82 26
84 Erie Co Health Ctr 21 1 5%
89 Wright 63 2 3%
90 Drew ECC 90 36 2 5%
91 BUILD 56 1 2%
93 Southside 90 1 1%
94 West Hertel 61
95 Waterfront 72
96 Campus West 72
97 Austin 42 1 2%
99 Makowski 67
156 Olmsted 156 50 1 2%
192 Peforming Arts 75 4 5%
195 City Honors 62 1 2%
197 MST Prep 49 1 2%
198 International Prep 46
200 Bennett  76 2 3%
204 Lafayette 72
205 Riverside 74 2 3%
206 South Park 83
212 da Vinci 30
301 Burgard 63 2 3%
302 Emerson 36
304 Hutch Tech 94
305 McKinley 79
307 East 69
26 1 4%
131 Academy, grades 7-8 9
131 Academy, Grades 9-12 16

Total 3143 48 2%


- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |